Doyers Street “The Bloody Angle”
Doyers Street, also known as the bloody angle, earned its nickname because of frequent bloodshed among the Chinese gangs that occupied the area from the late 1800’s into the 1990’s. These gangs, called tongs, were initially formed as community organizations.
Chinese immigrants began to immigrate to the United States in the mid-1800’s. Most went to California first hoping to find fortune during the Gold Rush. When that didn’t pan out they moved East settling in places like New York City and Boston. In New York Chinese immigrants settled in the area of Mott, Pell and Doyers Streets. Today they are at the heart of a much larger Chinatown.
Chinese were largely discriminated against and as a result became a very insulated society. Once settled in their new city many Chinese immigrants began to organize themselves into groups called tongs. Tongs were formed based on some sort of commonality. Reasons varied but included where you originated in China, your family affiliations, your politics or even your dialect. These groups were initially meant to provide protection and support but many eventually evolved into criminal organizations. The two tongs primarily responsible for the violence in New York City’s Chinatown were the On Leong Tong and the Hip Sing Tong.
Back in its bloodier days Doyers Street was lined with opium dens and fan tan parlors (a type of gambling). Many establishments had their own secret entrances and trapdoors. But make no mistake it wasn’t the opium that required secrecy, that was legal.
Violence in Chinatown was at its worst from the 1890’s to the 1930’s. The On Leong Tong and Hip Sing Tong had frequent, bloody clashes with each other. That sharp angle in the middle of Doyers Street made it ideal for an ambush. Walking down Doyers Street also meant there was a chance you were going to be shanghaied or crimped. Today being shanghaied simply means you’ve been caught off guard. Back then not only were you caught off guard but you were then kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery or put to work on a boat (a type of impressment). These crimes were made easier by another of Doyers Street’s secrets: a network of underground tunnels.
The tunnels not only helped facilitate kidnappings but also allowed for a quick escape after committing any of the many crimes the area was known for.
Another fun fact about Doyers Street history: The term hatchet man actually originated from the events that occurred on Doyers Street, as tong members often used hatchets to commit their crimes. Today Doyers Street is a far cry from its violent heyday. No longer is there bloodshed in the street and they won’t even let you see the underground tunnels (what’s left of them that is). Today Doyers Street is lined with barbershops, a place to get dim sum, a post office and various other everyday stores.
I actually took this photo on a whim, it didn’t occur to me to use it for one of the postcards at the time, so I don’t have any others of Doyers Street. If you would like to see more have a look at this article from Scouting New York.
You can read more about the Tong Wars in this article from Bowery Boys History.
I also had to photoshop the address off of a couple of the awnings in the photo. This is what it really looks like:
I send postcards with my photos on them. You figure out the location from the clues in the message.